SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) - The fate of the Lotus Formula One team hung in the balance on Friday, with the risk of administration looming and even the sport’s commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone unsure whether Renault would ride to the rescue.
“Apparently Renault are going to take over Lotus. Apparently. This is what has been foreseen. Whether it will be completed, I don’t know,” Ecclestone, 84, told Reuters by telephone from London.
“If they don’t complete it (the takeover) by Monday or put some money in soon... unless Renault come to the party, it won’t happen,” he added.
Asked whether he felt Renault would step up, or whether there was an element of wishful thinking on the part of the Lotus owners and the 400 factory employees, Ecclestone said he did not know.
“It’s strange that a company as large as Renault are taking such a long time to make a decision, to be honest with you,” he said.
“They’ve been waiting for us to make a contribution to give them a reason to do something, which we’ve done two weeks ago. So I don’t know.”
Media reports have indicated that Renault want ‘heritage’ payments and status that would put them on a par with Mercedes as a reward for their contribution to the sport over the years.
These would be in exchange for a long-term commitment to the sport, something major car companies have been reluctant in the past to sign up to.
“They wanted the same sort of deal as Mercedes and some money. So we tried to work it out. We got a calculator and worked out what nine years would be,” said Ecclestone.
“What we’ve done for them is not anything that we need to do, or had to, but we’ve done it to try and be helpful and keep Renault in Formula One. Our agreement is with Renault and not with Lotus.”
Lotus are due back in the London High Court on Monday to face demands from the Britain’s revenue and tax authority (HMRC) to have the team placed in administration as a result of unpaid taxes.
The British-based outfit, world champions in their previous guises of Benetton and Renault, have missed at least three monthly payments of 905,000 pounds ($1.38 million) each plus interest.
They also owe money to a list of other creditors and have been locked out of their hospitality unit, where staff and guests are fed, at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix for failing to pay organizers.
Their freight, including the Mercedes engines, were delivered only on Thursday after another dispute over payment.
In Belgium last month, bailiffs impounded their cars after the race as part of a legal action brought against them by former reserve driver Charles Pic while in Hungary Pirelli withheld tyres until payment was made.
An adjourned court hearing in London last week heard that Renault were close to completing a deal, although some scepticism was voiced by HMRC lawyers, that would ensure the team’s survival.
While the sport waited for a decision to emerge from Renault headquarters in Paris, with the French carmaker also mulling whether to quit the sport entirely, Ecclestone said he had made sure the hungry Lotus mechanics were being fed at Suzuka by giving them access to the catering in the VIP Paddock Club.
“They don’t have to beg (for food) any more because we’ve looked after them. It’s not nice for the team. We’ve done all we can do, plus,” he said, with the mechanics posting a photograph on the Lotus Twitter feed thanking him for his help.
“Let’s hope now that somebody else does something.”
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly